India’s favourite footballer Bhaichung Bhutia feels that Aizawl FC’s recent I-League title triumph will help prosper the club culture and football at large in Northeast.

“It's a great thing to see a club from Northeast lifting the title, that too when they are not too financially strong. Earlier, Northeast was the region that used to supply players for national team and clubs, now winning the title is a big motivation for budding footballers from the region. With this win, I hope the football club culture in Northeast will prosper,” Bhutia told The Statesman in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of an event at the Genesis Global School, Noida on Tuesday.

The 40-year-old former footballer from Sikkim also shared the experience of his United Sikkim FC that struggled to get sponsors despite an impressive show at the I-League.

“I run a football club United Sikkim that played I-League also but even after that no one comes for the sponsorship. I fear in next three years down the line, where will Aizawl be. They've been relegated from the league and struggling for the survival because they've not been able to get the sponsors,” he said.

Bhutia believes that keeping the players committed to the club despite financial crunch is a big challenge for Aizawl FC. “Now, all their big players will be picked by the bigger clubs. The major challenge for Aizawl is to match the players’ salary with the ISL standards so that they don't go in flourished clubs like Mumbai or Kolkata,” he explained.

The three-time player of the year seemed content to see the Indian national football team also doing well in the current time line. Stephen Constantine-coached Indian football team recently entered the top 100 of the FIFA rankings for the first time in 21 years.

Expressing his happiness over India’s golden achievement, Bhutia said: “For last three years, I've been in the technical committee and we've been planning, strategising the entire ranking and matches with the federation. It's good that we've been able to reach the top hundred.”

“This is all because of players who are performing well and also the coach who made us win so many matches in the recent past. Also, everyone in the federation has worked together to make this happen. Now, the challenge is maintaining the rank and improving after that. We'll have to plan to make things organised, he added.”

Bhutia is happy to see young players joining the national team and performing well under the guidance of coach Constantine.

“We have got a lot of young players in the national football team. The national coach Stephen Constantine has done a great job. He groomed a lot of young faces and it's a good sign as if you see them now, it won't be fair to call them young because they've gained much maturity in their game,” he said.

India is hosting the FIFA Under-17 Football World Cup in October 2017. Bhutia didn’t shy to call it a ‘big moment’ for both Indian footballers and fans.

“It's a high standard tournament. A lot of young players are coming from South America or Europe for that matter. Besides playing U-17 for their national sides, they have contacts with clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid. So they have high standards. When Messi was 15, he played for Barcelona; Wayne Rooney scored his first Premier League goal against Arsenal, while playing for Everton at the age of 16,” Bhutia said when asked on India’s chances in the World Cup.

The ace striker, however, said that it will be a great learning experience for the young footballers and the tournament will test their skills to the fullest.

“At AIFF, we are supporting them (India’s U-17 team) in every possible manner. In terms of preparation, not a single person or players can complain that we lacked here or there in the facilities. Now, it's up to the boys how they perform at such a big stage,” Bhutia signed off with a smile.